In this clip, Careful Cents contributor Brian Roberts talks with rapper Rick Ross about money and entrepreneurship.
Our Rick Ross interview is brought to you by Shopify.
Boss up and join 1,000,000+ entrepreneurs selling online with Shopify. Sell your own products–or someone else’s–online, on Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, eBay or in-person. Join me and countless others making money 24 hours a day on Shopify. Start your 14-day free trial with Shopify today, no credit card required.
This transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Roberts: Everybody asks you about music. I want to ask you about business. You’ve laid a business blueprint for other artists, as well as people outside of music, so I wanted to start there. What came first? Was it the entrepreneur, the musician? Or was it a combination of both?
Really, I think it’s, I really think the art should always come first, because there is no business if there’s no true talent, if there’s no true gift. If there’s nothing that you’re really, truly bringing to the table, there will be no business. You know what I’m saying?
The art should always be the priority, you know what I mean? And after you master the art, that’s when you should begin spending time and investing time on the business aspect of it, because if there’s something you love to do and there’s something you’ll be doing, you should really profit as much as possible.
Roberts: I read Hurricanes. New York Times bestseller, by the way. Congratulations on that.
Thank you, baby boss.
One of the standout moments in that for me was when you mentioned how when you signed your first deal, you took that money from the label, you put it aside, and you didn’t touch it, and you did that to see if other things could manifest on the business side while also gauging, “Okay, what’s this music money really going to be worth?” What was your rationale behind that?
You know, just really, honestly, it was like, yo, it took me so long to finally make one penny. I valued it that much. That’s one aspect. Two, secondly, I feel the things that a first time artist would love to purchase or achieve, I had already had, you know? Those first automobiles, or you know, that first real estate that every artist really deserves to enjoy and share that moment, but I was already there.
Really, my mind may have been on something bigger. I just wasn’t sure, so when you’re not sure, the best thing to always do is just save. Just stack, and that’s what I did. I didn’t buy an automobile, I didn’t buy anything. I just wanted to stack and see what was this going to really, really fucking look like. Right.
And what was the first big investment you made once you were in a position to, I guess, make a big investment? I’d imagine after Port of Miami first came out, or like, what was the first big business venture outside of music that you got into that … ?
Honestly, real estate was always my go-to thing. You know what I mean? I’m one of them dudes that I’m quick to say I’m not into the shit that I can’t see; the stocks, and the bonds, and the bitcoins, and the money falling from the … hey, all you guys out there that’s profiting off of that? Congratulations.
But me, I’m one of those guys that love to feel it. I like to feel it. I want it to really have an address. Does it have an address? Can I pull up to it and touch it? That was really my blueprint.
Instead of wasting time, trying to hire people to think for me, no, this is what I’m going to do. This is something that my team does well. This is something that I watched my mother doing, and my sister doing. This is what I want to do, so that’s what we’re going to invest in, so you know, how many pieces of real estate do I own right now?
Roberts: I imagine it’s in that realm of too many to keep track of.
Most definitely. Just being honest, it’s much more homes than it is restaurants, because buying real estate was something that my mom was into.
You know, where she’s from, the real estate was a little more affordable, and she did a lot of buying homes next door, across the street, and I watched her do that for a long time, and I said, “Let’s take that to another level.”
And so that was just something that we did, you know?
And once it became in the franchising, that was something that I was also extremely proud to get involved in. Of course, after it was something I learned, I adapted to it. You know, but it was something, I always loved it. Once again, it’d be a number that you’re proud of.
Roberts: So, obviously, your mom was a big influence.
Huge. Massive, going all the way back.
What would you say to someone who doesn’t have that kind of influence around? You know, it seems like your team, whether it’s your family, or people who maybe you’re not directly related to, but play a big role in the decisions you’ve made, you know, how big of a role does team play in your success?
I think understanding, being a captain, being a boss, you understand, there’s only so much you can achieve by yourself. There’s only so much you can accomplish alone. You will need a team, and I think one of the greatest gifts that a great boss has is being able to recognize certain qualities and values in certain people that’s right around you.
You know, a lot of times, coming up where we’re from, it’s easy to grow up with somebody, and you know them, and whatever, whatever, whatever, and a lot of times you’ll look right past somebody that has the gift for what you’re lacking, or the big piece of the puzzle to really take you to the next level, and to me I think being the boss is somebody that can look past the small things and say, “Yo, I want to give you the opportunity to do this.”
“But it’s really a opportunity for both of us. Let’s sit down,” and that’s something that I always did, and I start with my home. You know, and anything they can do, let’s bring it to the table, so when you see my very first and only DJ I’ve ever had my entire life, he’s also the A&R, made my music, he’s also the official tour DJ, he’s also the … so, I’m not just telling you this.
This is something that we live by, you know, and you begin with your circle, you begin with your surroundings, and then everybody fucking get rich.
Roberts: And I think his story in particular (points to DJ Sam Sneak), I think you said he was 90 pounds when you guys first met? [laughs] I think there’s a lot to learn from that whole story. Can you summarize that?
Well, that’s when I was a underground artist in the streets, but you know, I had big whips, big trucks. I was doing other things to make it happen at the time, and one night I was out in one of my big trucks with the datings on it that, you know, certain people was familiar with. Of course, I didn’t have any music out, but he had the aspirations to be a DJ.
He really couldn’t. Only thing he really could do at that time that I seen in him was collect sneakers, and that’s why his name was Sam Sneak. He didn’t even have a fucking bed in his room. It was just Nike boxes all up the wall. Nike. I said, “God damn, you got every damn pair of shoes.” But I seen his vision, you know, and I told him right then.
First time I ever met him, first time, “You’re my DJ.” He snuck in the club, and my truck was outside. He snuck in the club. “Yo, Rick Ross, man, I heard some of your songs.” And I’m like, “What the fuck are you doing in here?”
“Man, I snuck in. They’re fixing to kick me out, but,” and you know, it was, shit, man, I don’t know how much time later, he had got a job in the strip club, and somebody just kept telling me, “Man, your underground songs, they play in the strip club all day.” And then come to find out it was Sam Sneak, so that was before I was ever paid to do a show, so once I began doing them, I told him to quit the strip club. Sorry, ladies. And he went on road, and we just wrapped up a tour last night.
Roberts: What are you going to tell somebody who’s, they love the art, maybe they don’t know the business too well, but they have the drive?
I have to be honest, you can love the art, you can know the business, and you could still be worthless. What I would always tell you is whatever it is you love to do, that’s what you do, because it’s a win-win situation. If it’s something you love to do, you’re going to please yourself regardless of what others reward you with. And if that’s what’s happening, it’s only something good that could come from that. That was really the only way I stayed involved in records and music, because the type of things I was discussing, where I was from, getting money, talking about homes and being the entrepreneur, that really wasn’t the priority in Miami.
Miami, that’s the sunshine state. Beaches and the ladies, and the convertibles, the parties. That’s really what it was about. And I was the laid back fat kid with the scuffy shoes on, who was thinking about getting a million. So it’s like, of course I love the party, of course I want to enjoy the party, but I’ve got something else on my mind.
You know, the chicks shaking they ass, the water splashing off, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am entertained, but very quickly, my mind drifts to something else. So I look, “Okay now. Yeah, she talented,” but it’s like I go to something else, and that’s kind of like how my music reflected. So I always wanted to keep that. It had to be about Miami, where I was from, but I wanted to paint another picture, you know? I did.
Roberts: For an artist who’s passionate about what they’re doing, they’re trying to make it… how did you balance trying to make it with music while also surviving, paying the bills, making ends meet, and then what would you say to an artist who’s in a similar position and they’re trying to balance those two commitments? You know, like an artist with a family, let’s say.
Right, right, right. I think one of the things that make artists somewhat worthy of the attention that they garner is the wins and losses that you take, because you most definitely will take wins and losses that you can learn from. That’s something to gain from, you know?
Every time you walk out of a audition or wherever it is, a studio session, and you holding your head down, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a complete loss. I’ve done that so many times, where it just didn’t connect, which is, damn, man. You know, you shed tears for this shit. But it doesn’t mean it’s a total loss. So regardless of what it is, anything that it is you love, you do.
If you is a songwriter, a producer, whatever it is, if you love it, you won’t lose. Regardless if you never make a platinum record in your fucking life, you never know. You may become the fucking director. You may become the fucking CEO. You may become the fucking whatever it is, because if it’s something you love, it’s something that’ll stay close to you. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s more about, feeding your spirit, feeding your soul, feeding that creativity.
I think that’s what this whole Luc Belaire campaign is. That’s why I feel it’s so in touch with the culture, social media. I go to the [inaudible] just to see what’s cracking, because it’s motherfuckers from Africa, from Europe, from everywhere. You know, I meet producers, I meet DJs, I meet artists, and that’s what it’s about. It’s about that youthful spirit, and at the end of the day that should always come first. Everything else should always come second. So the relationships, and then the party, and then this is the whole set upon.
Roberts: Do you think it’s easier now to make it than it was back when you were first starting?
You know, if I said that I really wouldn’t be honest with myself. You know, it’s easy for a motherfucker to say that because … But you never know. It could be even more difficult now just because of the platform and so many more people get to have a opportunity and a voice. You never know. I just take it for what it is, you know what I’m saying? I just understand and accept the differences from when we came in, to now it’s a lot more visual.
And that’s something that I love. You know what I mean? I really believe I’m one of those kids that when I was in elementary school, if they had a visual school setup versus the teacher, I think I would have truly excelled. Like if I could have just sat down, watched a film every day, I may have … you know, I might be.
Roberts: Is that what the Ross School would look like? Would it just be most … How would you set up a school, knowing what you-
It would be visual. Visual. There’s only a certain tone you could raise your voice to. Of course it would be most definitely creative. The first period of the day, let’s draw what’s on your mind. You know, put red paint on my hands. Let’s touch something. I think it would be something like that. Of course, I’m just enjoying myself right now, and The Luc Belaire School of Arts, I think it’d be most definitely all about expression.
I would want you to express yourself more than I would question you. I don’t question you, and that’s a part of the test. You tell me what you thinking. You tell me how you feel. I’m going to see what we as a class can learn and take from you, the day, based on how you feel, because you may never feel this way or think this way again in your life.
Roberts: So, what are your 2020 plans?
We really plan to launch the visual side of things for my team.
Roberts: Production company, I think I’ve heard you say?
Right, right, right. That’s something that we really want to do. That’s something that we really plan, I feel too. Yeah, that’s most definitely I think should come next.
Roberts: So, as time’s gone on, you have more and more on your plate. You’ve had some health issues. so how are you balancing all of these different things, like more workload as time goes on? What-
I think for me, it’s more a love load, because if it’s not anything I don’t love, I really don’t be a part of it. And luckily for me, my health issues were something that I actually could get in control of. And I think that was the dope part of it. You know, rest and more doing the things that I really need to do. I’m having a great results on that, and everything as far as what I do is just like my music. You know, it’s something that I love. It’s non stressful. Anything that’ll bring stress to me, it’s a good chance it won’t’ make it.
Roberts: Think you mentioned in Hurricanes that Teflon Don was your most stressful album to make, right?
Teflon Don was just a special period for me. That was one of those periods where I may have slept two hours and I wanted to take over the world. And if I had to do it by myself, I was willing to. I was willing to go against. Whatever it was I was really focusing on, I felt where I am the day I would be, but it was just time to do that. And that’s when you separate the true leaders and the ones who just have a visual of it. And ain’t nothing wrong with that, but I really felt it. I wanted to touch it.
Roberts: What was your mindset going into each of the different albums that you’ve done? What was going on with you personally? Obviously that’s going to affect the type of music you’re making. Clearly, on Teflon Don, you had that. What was it like for you now with Port of Miami 2, versus the.. what is it like for you now with Port of Miami 2 versus the first one?
Port of Miami 2 versus really to me felt like this was a pinnacle moment, because for me to take over a decade to get on, just to create my first album, who would imagine the 10th, debuting number one, a few weeks right behind it, releasing my memoir, New York Times bestseller. There’s already early discussions of possible visuals. All those channels they throw around.
Roberts: Do you watch any of that stuff?
I do, I do.
Roberts: What are you watching right now?
Most recently I just watched The Godfather of Harlem, as well as Snowfall. That was something that I … make sure you check out just one episode. I think those young dudes, you could get this on record, I think he got potential to be another young Denzel. Yeah. His level of maturity. You know what I’m talking about? It’s a dumb thing, but I just, I stay in touch, like I said, the music, the films. That’s something that I naturally love to watch, so I could sit down for two days and just binge watch two seasons of some shit. You know? When I’m really into it, I’m into it. You know?
Roberts: What about reading lists, mentors, people you talk to? Who do you call when you need advice on a situation … and what are those conversations like?
[Long pause] That must say a lot about me, huh? I don’t call many, I really don’t. I don’t mind sitting in the dark, and if I do it’d be the closest ones around me, you know? Because for some reason I don’t find myself putting myself in positions where I need too, too, too much advice. You know? It would be something that’s really the obvious.
Yo Sam Sneak, which of these pictures? You know? If we in the studio playing records, as far as advice business-wise. Personal shit, I really keep it cool. Business-wise, I get advice from … But I ain’t really got the long advice list. Motherfuckers be having their long advice list. Their best man and all that shit.
Roberts: So, like you said then, so when you’re in a situation like that, it’s some strategic high-level thinking, you’ll just kind of detach from the world and find some stillness and some quiet and just kind of ruminate and think it through on your own.
You know, at the end of the day it’s really all about just doing what’s best for the team. You know? And when you’re thinking of your team, you’re thinking of yourself and the ones you love, what’s best for the team and what … you know, it may be the most difficult, but what’s best. I don’t mind doing what’s difficult, you know? Because like you say, when you have health issues and shit like that, it’s not a lot of people that’s going to be there with you.
You got to really make these decisions and what’s best for yourself, what’s best for your team. You can’t call nobody and ask them how they feel, you know? That’s something that you got to deal with yourself. So that’s pretty much like everything else. And I just, I leave it like that, what’s best. And it may be the most difficult, which is cool. That’s cool, too because it’s going to be difficult.
Doing some great shit will be difficult. You will take some losses, but we know that now. Write it down, put it in your fucking journal or whatever you got. You’re going to take some losses, you’re going to take some Ls, but long as you don’t stop doing what you’re doing, I’m confident … You know what I mean? … that you will achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. Real language.
Roberts: What led you to being so confident with Belaire all the many years ago? It seems like you kind of saw something long before anyone else saw it.
I’m going to be honest, I really can’t even take the credit because it was already bubbling. You know, the product hasn’t changed one bit. And the same thing you enjoy now is what I enjoyed, and me coming in the game and, you know, I remember just drinking champagne for the first time, being in Miami in ’01 and ’02 and the bottle with the flowers, the bottle with this, this and that, and I tried a lot of different things.
I partied for a lot of years on South Beach in Miami, and when I came across this I said, “This is the one. Who is this? Let them know, okay, they got Rose.” That’s my nickname. Y’all let them know what it is and come to find out they was just a team of cool motherfuckers all the way up to Brett Berish. Shout out to him and everybody else. They just were some cool motherfuckers. So it just was smoothness. I just started taking them pictures, repping them. And I was number one in the clubs. We go to Dubai, we go to all these different places. That’s all.
Roberts: And what’s the newest venture you have going on right now that you’re most excited about?
I’m actually excited about the tennis shoes I designed. Collaboration with D Wade, Li-Ning. We actually just launched this maybe two weeks ago. It’s a limited run. That’s what we’re doing first and then we’re going to come with some apparel. We did some real dope sneakers. It’s real dope. It’s lifestyle as well as the way D played with for so many years. And then it’s the lifestyle vibe. I just take you. I just want you to check them out, wear Wade. It’s next level fly shit. It is.
Special thanks to Rick Ross, Luc Belaire, and Epic Records. Ross is a New York Times bestselling author (Hurricanes), Wingstop and Checkers franchisee, and real estate magnate. His line of grooming products are sold at Sally Beauty Supply (with a full rollout at Walgreens slated for 2020).